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EU juniors drive double digit growth in Irish ELT

English language schools in Ireland have reported double digit growth for the 2016 calendar year, driven mostly by junior language programs catering to EU students.

Ireland, ELTWith a target of increasing ELT enrolments by 25% by 2020, MEI said government help targeting key markets outside the EU is crucial. Photo: William Murphy.

Half of enrolments were junior students from EU countries, led in volume by Italy and Spain

According to annual statistics released by Marketing English in Ireland, enrolments increased 11% reaching 119,119 students in 2016 up from 2015’s 107,129. Half of enrolments were junior students from EU countries, led in volume by Italy and Spain.

The junior sector specifically saw a 28% increase in student numbers to almost 63,000 students, while adult programs had a slight 1% drop to 56,189.

“The growth is hugely significant as it comes on the back of strong growth in 2015 also”

MEI credited the growth to a large increase in numbers of EU students from Italy, Austria and Spain and the addition of three more member schools to the organisation.

David O’Grady, CEO of Marketing English in Ireland, said in a statement the growth is “hugely significant” as it “comes on the back of strong growth in 2015 also”.

In 2015, ELT schools saw an 8% increase in enrolments after a downturn in 2014.

The strong British pound throughout much of 2016 also contributed to the boost in numbers, said O’Grady.

“If you drill down you’ll see the increase has been in EU students and juniors and that’s the segment most vulnerable to competition from the UK and sterling,” he told The PIE News.

Now with a weaker pound, O’Grady expects growth to slow. “Anecdotally schools say Q1 has been busy but I hear students are going back to the UK. I don’t expect to see double digit growth in 2017.”

Overall student weeks in 2016 dropped 3% despite 12% growth in juniors to 107,793 weeks. The growth was offset by a 6% decline in adult program weeks, driven mostly by a 26% drop in non-EU visa requiring countries.

For both adults and juniors, the average length of stay was 5.3 weeks.

But broken down by source markets, students coming to Ireland from EU countries stayed for 2.5 weeks while students from outside the EU who are not required to have a visa, stayed on average 18 weeks. Students who are required to have a visa stayed for just 10 weeks.

The strong British pound throughout much of 2016 also contributed to the boost in numbers

The biggest provider of adult student weeks was Brazil, a country where students aren’t required to have a visa for study in Ireland. Other non-visa countries include Korea and Japan.

Ireland’s ELT sector is worth €762m annually and was recently set the target of increasing enrolments 25% by 2020 in the country’s international education strategy.

But with more than three quarters (78%) of students coming from EU countries, O’Grady said it is crucial the government work the industry to find new markets outside of Europe.

“Twenty-five percent is ambitious but reasonable but there’s no real support to market to adults in key countries like Vietnam, Turkey, Russia and Colombia.”

When asked about any potential upswing as the result of Brexit, O’Grady said “I have no idea” adding, “As with all exporters we are very sensitive to currency fluctuations, fluid international political uncertainty, Brexit, changing destination trends and wider security issues, therefore Ireland needs to be constantly alert and nimble in our responses to all challenges.”

MEI represents 65 members schools and colleges across Ireland.

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